14 Va. J. Int'l L. 653 (1973-1974)
The United States and the Crisis in Human Rights

handle is hein.journals/vajint14 and id is 663 raw text is: The United States and the Crisis in Human
Rights*
Louis HENKIN**
Human rights is now in common currency in the languages of many
nations and in the language of relations between nations. International law
and international institutions designed to protect human rights have been
growing steadily for thirty years. There is now an imposing edifice of decla-
rations, resolutions, and formal treaties on human rights generally and on
selected, particular rights. The U.N. has commissions and committees,
subcommissions and subcommittees, with considerable jurisdiction. There
are regional laws and institutions to supplement the universal effort and
some of it, notably in Western Europe, includes a judicial tribunal and
other developed devices of accepted effectiveness.
Few would say, however, that human rights are alive and well in all or
most countries. Few would insist that the international effort has brought
a substantial improvement in the welfare of many human beings. Even its
staunch supporters have noted that international protection has faltered,
perhaps relapsed;' that there is in fact a crisis in human rights. The
reasons for that crisis, however, are not commonly understood; the respon-
sibility for it is not fairly attributed, and many of the possible remedies
are misconceived.
This article is concerned, in particular, with the role of the United States
in that crisis and with the remedies which American friends of human
rights might pursue. The United States has been second to no other major
country in the international effort to establish, promote, and maintain
human rights. While the concept of human rights draws on older roots,
American traditions and ideas helped to give it shape and particular con-
tent, and American predispositions were prominent in making human
rights a matter of international political concern. Even before 1945, Ameri-
can officials and non-governmental organizations stressed the relevance of
human rights to international peace and to other common international
purposes, and insisted that international law and institutions to protect
such rights were proper and necessary; their efforts helped enshrine human
* Part of this article was prepared for delivery at the McGill-Intemational Colloquium on
Judaism and Human Rights, April 1974.
** Hamilton Fish Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, Columbia University.
A.B., 1937, Yeshiva College; LL.B., 1940, Harvard University; L.H.D., 1963, Yeshiva. Presi-
dent, United States Institute of Human Rights.
1. See, e.g., Bilder, Rethinking International Human Rights: Some Basic Questions, 1969
WVis. L. REv. 171; Liskofsky, International Protection of Human Rights, in WOaL PoLMcs
AND THE JEWISH CONDITON 277-328 (L. Henkin ed. 1972).

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